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T H E THEOTO KOS LEC T URE S

I N THEO LO G Y

2014

MARY IN THE SCRIPTURES


THE UNEXPURGATED TRADITION

BY

RACHEL FULTON BROWN

MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY PRESS


M I LWAU K E E , W I S C O N S I N
Theotokos Lecture Series in Theology
No. 7

2014 Marquette University Press


Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-3141
All rights reserved.
www.marquette.edu/mupress/

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the
American National Standard for Information Sciences
Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Theotokos Lecture Series

T
hrough the gracious gift of an anonymous donor,
Marquette Universitys Department of Theology has
inaugurated this lecture series dedicated to Mary, the
Mother of Jesus. Theotokos means God-Bearer or Mother of
God and is the time-honored name originally bestowed by the
Council of Ephesus in 431 on the Blessed Virgin because of
her motherhood of Jesus. Through the centuries, the Church
has regarded her divine motherhood as the greatest of Marys
attributes the source of all her other honors, and recalls this
fact by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
each year on January 1. The department hopes that this annual
lecture on various theological topics will enhance our service to
the Church and its witness to the world under the patronage
of Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
RACHEL FULTON BROWN

R
achel Fulton Brown is Associate Professor of
History at the University of Chicago where,
since 1994, she has taught courses on Mary,
animals in the Middle Ages, the trivium, Tolkien, and
the history of European civilization. She is the author
of From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the
Virgin Mary, 800-1200 (Columbia University Press,
2002) and the co-editor with Bruce Holsinger of His-
tory in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the
Matter of Person (Columbia University Press, 2007).
She wrote her first paper on the medieval devotion
to the Virgin Mary as an undergraduate at Rice Uni-
versity where she majored in History and Religious
Studies, and she culminated her doctoral work at Co-
lumbia University on the Marian exegesis of the Song
of Songs. As much as she would like to write on topics
other than Mary, the Virgin keeps drawing her back.

Dr. Fulton Brown is a nationally-ranked fencer in Veter-


an Womens Foil and a beginning fiddler. She is grateful
to the Virgin for interceding on behalf of her dog Joy,
who became critically ill while she was working on this
paper.
Mary in the Scriptures
The Unexpurgated Tradition

Rachel Fulton Brown


Question: Does Mary appear in the Scriptures other than in
the New Testament?1

T
here are two things that almost everyone knows
about the Virgin Mary: one, she was the mother of
Jesus, whom Christians worship as the LORD; and
two, the only place that she appears in Scripture is the New
Testament, and even there only rarely. Almost never in mod-
ern discussions, whether Catholic, Protestant, or secular, is
this purported absence of Mary from the Scriptures called
into question. As Kevin Hart put it matter-of-factly in his
2012 lecture for this same series, however much the doctrines
of the Immaculate Conception or the Virgin Birth point (or
not) to critical Christological mysteries, it must be conced-
ed that biblical images of Mary are few and far between, and
when they occur they may be memorable but they are also
fleeting.2 In her recent monumental study of the image of
Mary as Mother of God, Miri Rubin avers that it was this
very absence of Mary from Scripture that first sparked her
interest in Mary as a phenomenon. How, she says she asked

1 Scriptural references are given throughout according to the


Vulgate numbering, unless otherwise indicated. Psalms are ref-
erenced by both Vulgate and Hebrew numbers, with verses ac-
cording to the Vulgate.
2 Kevin Hart, Contemplation and Concretion: Four Marian Lyrics,
Theotokos Lecture Series in Theology 5 (Milwaukee: Marquette
University Press, 2012), 14.
8 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

herself, did Mary, about whom so little is said in the gospels,


become this familiar global figure?3
Rubins answer, like Harts, assumes a certain gradualism,
a slow development out of the needs of the early Christians
to satisfy their desire for more information about Mary as
well as to bolster emerging Christianity with powerful argu-
ments and compelling accounts of its origins,4 with the cave-
at that much of this information was grounded more in pious
imagination than anything resembling an authentic tradition
of interpretation. Other than the accounts of her that appear
in Matthew 1-2, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 1-2, John 2:1-5, 19:25-
27, and Acts 1:14, there is nothing (or so the argument usu-
ally goes) to suggest that there was any reason for the early
Christians to have been interested in whether the LORD had
a mother or to have had any expectations about her role in his
appearance in the world. Likewise, everything that Christians
would subsequently imagine about herfor example, her
childhood in the Temple or her posthumous assumption into
heaven and her coronation as queencan be traced (or so it
is generally assumed) to influences external to Christianity
proper, such images having nothing to do with Christ as such
and more with the desire to fill certain psychological or so-
cial needs for comfort (Mary as mother) or recourse against
the strictures of orthodoxy (Mary as intercessor). Mary, ac-
cording to the developmental narrative of Christianity with
which modern scholarship is most familiar, is a logical but
incidental figure in Scripture as well as theology. Of course (it
is conceded) Christians want to know about Jesuss mother
(her personality, her emotions, her relationship to the faith-
ful), but Christologically (as opposed to devotionally) she is
significant only as a guarantor of the humanity of Christ.5
3 Miri Rubin, Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), xxii.
4Rubin, Mother of God, xxiii.
5 These are general impressions, based on some thirty years of
reading in the history of Marian devotion. For a good introduc-
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 9

To judge solely from the single most popular cycle of


prayers or hoursthe so-called Little Office of the Vir-
ginrecited throughout western Europe by clergy, religious,
and laity alike, medieval and early modern Catholic Chris-
tians saw Mary rather differently, likewise her relationship
to the Scriptures.6 Far from being a figure mentioned only
incidentally in the Gospels, Mary for pre-modern Christians
was everywhere in the Old Testament, most notably in the
books associated with Wisdom (Sapientia). In the Use ad-
opted by the Roman curia in the thirteenth century from the
Franciscans and standardized for publication after the coun-
cil of Trent, Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Sirach provided
the lessons for the night office or Matins as well as the little
chapter at Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, while
the Song of Songs provided antiphons for various psalms
throughout the hours as well as the little chapter at Lauds
and Prime. In other words, all of the scriptural lessons (not
to mention the psalms) for the daily Marian hours were taken
from the Old Testament, not the Gospels, the only exception
being during Advent, when the readings were taken from
Isaiah and Luke.7 Along with Proverbs and the Wisdom of

tion to the scholarship and issues, see Sarah Jane Boss, ed., Mary:
The Complete Resource (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
On the origins of the devotion, see also Chris Maunder, ed.,
Origins of the Cult of the Virgin Mary (London: Burns & Oates,
2008).
6 I am currently at work on a book-length study of the history
and significance of the Marian office. As yet, there is no single
study that deals in depth with this development. For introduc-
tion, see Rebecca A. Baltzer, The Little Office of the Virgin and
Marys Role at Paris, in The Divine Office in the Latin Middle
Ages: Methodology and Source Studies, Regional Developments,
Hagiography, ed. by Margot E. Fassler and Rebecca A. Baltzer
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 463-84.
7 For this version of the Marian office, see The Little Office of
the Blessed Virgin Mary in Latin and English (London: Baronius
Press, 2007). One of the great challenges of studying the Mari-
10 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

Solomon, these same Old Testament scriptures also provided


texts for the offices and masses of the Virgins principal feasts
(Purification, Annunciation, Assumption, Nativity, and Con-
ception).8 Clearly, in the pre-modern liturgy, the Old Testa-
ment spoke frequently of the Mother of the LORD, even if
for many modern Christians, these texts have seemed to have
little to do with her.
Nor did these liturgical selections exhaust the places in
Scripture in which pre-modern Christians saw Mary. As
one thirteenth-century preacher put it in a sermon on the
Salve regina: All Scripture was written concerning her and
about her and because of her, and for her the whole world was
made, she who is full of the grace of God and through whom
man has been redeemed, the Word of God made flesh, God
humbled and man sublimed. In proof, the preacher provided
a list of the names under which Mary appeared:
She is the tabernacle of God, the temple, the house, the en-
try-hall, the bedchamber, the bridal-bed, the bride, the daugh-
ter, the ark of the flood, the ark of the covenant, the golden
urn, the manna, the rod of Aaron, the fleece of Gideon, the
gate of Ezekiel, the city of God, the heaven, the earth, the sun,
the moon, the morning star, the dawn, the lamp, the trumpet,
the mountain, the fountain and garden, the lily of the valley,
the desert, the land of promise flowing with milk and honey,
the star of the sea, the ship, the way in the sea, the fishing net,
the vine, the field, the ark, the granary, the stable, the manger

an office is the number of different versions or Uses in which it


appears in the manuscripts and early printed editions. The most
complete list to date has been published online by Erik Drigsdahl
at the Center for Hndskriftstudier i Danmark (<http://www.
chd.dk>, accessed August 19, 2014). Drigsdahl has counted
more than 600 variants in the tradition.
8 On the use of the Wisdom texts in the Marian liturgy generally,
see Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and
Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylva-
nia Press, 2003), 194-206.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 11

of the beast of burden, the store-room, the court, the tower, the
castle, the battle-line, the people, the kingdom, the priesthood.

Nor was this all:


She is the sheep, the pasture, the paradise, the palm, the rose,
the river, the drink, the dove, the column, the clothing, the
pearl, the candelabra, the table, the crown, the scepter, the
bread, the oil, the wine, the tree, the rod, the cedar, the cypress,
the plane-tree, the cinnamon, the balsam, the myrrh, the frank-
incense, the olive, the nard, the crocus, the reed, the pen, the
gum, the sister and mother. 9

Simply to catalogue all of the references to Mary in Scrip-


ture could take booksand did. For the Augustinian canon
Richard of St.-Laurent (d. ca. 1250) this task took twelve
books (running in total to some 840 double-columned pages
in the 1898 edition), the Franciscan Servasanctus of Faenza
(d. ca. 1300) took six (some 250 double-columned pages in
the 1651 edition), while the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine
(d. 1298) penned an entire alphabet of references (some 560
pages in the 1688 edition).10 If for most modern readers the
9 In antiphonam Salve regina, Sermo 3.2, ed. J.P. Migne, Patrologia
Latina 184 (Paris: Migne, 1854), 1069. On these titles, see also
G. G. Meersseman, Virgo a doctoribus praetitulata: Die marian-
ischen Litaneien als dogmengeschichtliche Quellen, Freiburger
Zeitschrift fr Philosophie und Theologie 1 (1954): 129-78.
10 Richard of St.-Laurent, De laudibus beatae Mariae virginis libri
XII, in B. Alberti Magni Opera omnia 36, ed. A. and A. Borgnet
(Paris: Vivs, 1898); Servasanctus of Faenza, Mariale sive liber
de laudibus beatae virginis Mariae, as Archbishop Ernestus of
Prague, Mariale sive liber de praecellentibus et eximiis SS. Dei ge-
nitricis Mariae supra reliquas creaturas praerogativis, ex arcanis S.
Scripturae, SS. Patrum, theologiae et philosophiae naturalis mysteriis
concinnatus (Prague: Typis Caesareo-Academicis, 1651); Jacobus
de Voragine, Mariale. De laudibus deiparae virginis, ed. R.P. Fr.
Rudolphus Clutius (Lyon: Apud Joann. Mattaeum Mart., 1688).
On Servasanctus, see my forthcoming review of Cynthia Robin-
son, Imagining the Passion in a Multiconfessional Castile: The Vir-
12 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

Scriptures say relatively little about Mary, most pre-modern


readers never stopped talking about her, even in commentar-
ies on that most evangelical of Marian texts, the angel Gabri-
els greeting (Luke 1:28). In the most recent critical edition
of the most popular of these commentaries (extant in almost
250 known manuscripts), the Franciscan Conrad of Saxonys
(d. 1279) Speculum seu opusculum salutationis beatae Mariae
virginis, the index of references to the Old Testament runs
to almost four pages, while references to the New Testament
fill less than two.11 According to the so-called Biblia Mariana
attributed to Albert the Great (d. 1280), references to Mary
might be found in every book of the Old Testament (includ-
ing Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus), saving only 1
and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Amos, Obadiah, Nahum,
Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Malachi (the list also
omits Acts and all the New Testament letters).12 That even
this list is likely to be incomplete is suggested above all by
the absence of an independent entry for the book of Psalms,
which pseudo-Albert cites throughout in support of his read-
ing of the images found elsewhere in the Scriptures.

Objection 1

Clearly, we have a problem. It cannot be the case both


that the Scriptures speak only rarely of Mary and that they

gin, Christ, Devotions, and Images in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth


Centuries, in Speculum 89.3 ( July 2014).
11 Conrad of Saxony, Speculum seu salutatio beatae Mariae vir-
ginis ac sermones Mariani, ed. Petrus de Alcantara Martinez,
Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi 11 (Grottaferrata:
Collegii S. Bonaventurae Ad Claras Aquas, 1975), 580-85. This
text is available in English as the work of Bonaventure, as The
Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary, trans. Sr. Mary Emmanuel (St.
Louis: Herder, 1932).
12 Biblia Mariana, in B. Alberti Magni Opera omnia 37, ed. A.
and A. Borgnet (Paris: Vivs, 1898), 365-443.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 13

speak about her all the time; one or the other tradition of
reading must be at fault. Pick up almost any modern (that is,
post-Enlightenment) commentary on the Scriptures and the
answer is clear: whatever mysteries the pre-modern Christian
commentators believed they found referring to Mary in the
Old Testament were solely the product of pious superstition
(a.k.a. allegory).13 Of course there is no mention of Mary the
mother of the LORD Jesus Christ in the Old Testament: the
Christians made her up, if not out of whole cloth, then cut-
and-pasted from tendentious readings of a few choice proph-
ecies, Isaiah 7:14 as cited in Matthew 1:23 most prominent
among them. To be sure, it is unlikely that even the most stal-
wart historical-critical account of the Scriptures would put it
quite so bluntly, but try finding a modern translation of the
Bible that does not simply take it as read that the pre-modern
tradition of reading was wrong (that is, prone to taking the
Old Testament texts out of the context in which they were
originally intended to be read, as well as reading them in a
way that no one prior to the evangelists or the early Chris-
tian exegetes had read them). We are confidently told by the
translators that Isaiah never predicted anything about the
Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God, only a

13 I am thinking here primarily of commentaries on the Song


of Songs, on which I have done the most work. On the Marian
reading of the Song, see my From Judgment to Passion: Devotion
to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2002), part two. On the medieval use of allego-
ry, see Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: Vol. 2 The Four Senses
of Scripture, trans. E.M. Macierowski (Grand Rapids: Wm. B.
Eerdmans, 2000). On the origins and governing assumptions
of the historical critical method of scholarship, see Stephen D.
Moore and Yvonne Sherwood, The Invention of the Biblical Schol-
ar: A Critical Manifesto (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). I
would like to thank Dan Puchalla for referring me to this last
book, which was very helpful in thinking through the difficulties
that I have had as a medievalist in using modern historical critical
scholarship on the Scriptures.
14 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

young woman (RSV) or the young woman (NRSV), pos-


sibly a virgin (KJV, ASV) or, at best, the virgin (ESV) who
would conceive and bear a child whom she would call God is
with us. Out of forty-four different translations of the verse
given at Bible Gateway, only one (Youngs Literal Transla-
tion, published 1862) capitalizes the V suggesting that the
name may have been a title rather than simply a description
of (as the Orthodox Jewish Bible puts it) HaAlmah (the un-
married young virgin) of whom the LORD spoke to King
Ahaz.14
Contrast this interpretive position with what pseudo-Al-
bert says of this verse: [Mary] is the one [Ipsa est] who con-
ceived and bore the liberator of all peoples. As Isaiah 7:14
says: Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, of salva-
tion and of freedom, namely: Behold the Virgin shall conceive,
and bear a son [Ecce Virgo concipiet, et pariet filium]. More-
over, according to pseudo-Albert, Mary is not only the Virgin
prophesied as a sign. She is also the Queen and Lady of all
the Prophets, called the house and the city of our faithfulness.
As Isaiah 1:26 said of her: You will be called, namely O Mary,
by the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the city of the just, that
is of Christ, the faithful city, faithfully receiving and protect-
ing all who flee to you. The Psalmist praises this city, saying
(Psalm 86 [87]:3): Glorious things are said of you, city of God!
Likewise, according to pseudo-Albert, she is the tabernacle of
Isaiah 4:6 that God the Father stretched out over sinners for
their protection; the throne of Isaiah 6:1 on which the Son of
God sat, high in soul and lifted up in body; and the rod of the
flower that came forth from the root of Jesse, as prophesied
in Isaiah 11:1. To read Isaiah, pseudo-Albert suggests, is to
discover the Virgin, Lady, and Queen under many different
guises: not only the house, the faithful city, the tabernacle,
the throne, and the rod, but also the swift cloud on which the
LORD comes riding (Isaiah 19:1), the earth which budded
14<https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Isaiah%207:14>,
accessed August 19, 2014.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 15

forth a savior (Isaiah 45:8), the fountain of the garden whose


waters will not fail (Isaiah 58:11), the city in which the glory
of the LORD arises (Isaiah 60:1), the house of the majesty
of the Trinity and the altar acceptable to God (Isaiah 60:7).15

Objection 2

But, I can hear you thinking, everyone knows that this


was all just elaborate allegory; everyone knows that medieval
and early modern Catholic exegetes read the Scriptures for
their own purposes, regardless of the circumstances in which
they were originally written. There is nothing in this exegeti-
cal tradition that could possibly reflect on the early Christian
or even pre-Christian origin of ideas about God, never mind
say anything meaningful about the development of ideas
about Mary other than as a reflection of the needs of the day
in which such allegories were written. The Scriptures say rel-
atively little about Mary, and thats that. But what if it werent
just elaborate allegory? What if, for the sake of argument, it
were actually true that, as our thirteenth-century preacher on
the Salve regina put it, all Scripture [including the Old Testa-
ment] was written concerning her and about her and because
of her? What if the medieval and early modern exegetes
were right, not only in their general sense that the Scriptures
must speak of Mary, the Mother of the LORD, just as they
spoke of her Son, the LORD, but also in the particular im-
ages which they identified as speaking about her? What if,
when the Fathers at the Council of Trent protested that the
Churchs teaching depended on both written and unwritten
traditions handed down from the Apostles, including the lists
of canonical bookswhich books included (as most Jewish
and Protestant Bibles do not) both the Wisdom of Solomon
and Ecclesiasticusthe traditions to which they referred had
just as much (or more) basis in fact as the readings on which

15 Biblia Mariana, ed. Borgnet, 408-12.


16 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

modern historical criticism has been built?16 What if (heav-


en forefend!) the pre-modern exegetes knew what they were
talking about when they insisted that Mary the mother of
Jesus was not just the mother of the man and guarantor of his
humanity, but herself the Queen and Lady of all the proph-
ets, whom (as pseudo-Albert says) Isaiah described as the
throne of the LORD and the faithful city of God in which
the LORD showed forth his glory?
Let me guess, you are skeptical. But consider: thanks to
Washington Irving (d. 1859), everyone also knows that pri-
or to Columbus, medieval Christians thought the world was
flat (pace Dante) and, therefore, that science has always been
at odds with religion (read, Genesis), so of course there is
nothing to learn from medieval traditions of exegesis about
the history of the Bible or the original interpretation of the
Scriptures. Which is simply to say: the modern world has its
own fair share of myths, many traveling under the guise of
accepted scholarly opinion, some of which legends are more
persistent than others.17 Just as medieval artists invariably de-
picted the created world as round, so medieval poets hymned
Mary as the one who contained Him whom the heaven of
heavens could not contain, while the seventeenth-century
Franciscan nun Sor Mara de Jsus de greda (d. 1665) de-
scribed Mary as filled over the course of the nine days be-
fore the Annunciation with all of the knowledge (ciencia) of
16 The Council of Trent, Fourth Session, April 8, 1546, trans.
J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 17-21 (<https://his-
tory.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct04.html>, accessed August 19,
2014).
17 On the origins and persistence of the nineteenth-century
myth that educated medieval people believed the earth was flat,
see Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus
and Modern Historians (New York: Praeger, 1991). For further
myths about the Middle Ages, see Stephen J. Harris and Bryon
L. Grigsby, ed., Misconceptions about the Middle Ages, Routledge
Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture 7 (New York: Rout-
ledge, 2008).
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 17

creationincluding astronomy, geography, botany, zoology,


anatomy, and medicineso as to be made ready to bear the
Creator in her womb.18 As Richard of St. Laurent put it in
his world-encompassing De laudibus beatae Mariae virginis,
Mary the mother of Wisdom was herself filled with the wis-
dom of creation, being the habitation not only of the Son, but
indeed of the whole Trinity, herself the greatest work of the
Creator (Ecclesiasticus 43:2), finely and artistically crafted,
created at the beginning of all things (Proverbs 8:22-23) to
be the dwelling of God. As such, she was likewise the most
perfect mirror of the Creator (Wisdom 7:26) reflecting all of
creation, as well as the book of the generation of Jesus Christ
(Matthew 1:1) upon which the LORD commanded Isaiah
to write (Isaiah 8:1), the sealed book (Isaiah 29:11) kept
by the side of the ark (Deuteronomy 31:26) as a testimony
against the Jews, and the book that John the evangelist saw,
sealed with the seven seals (Revelation 5:1) and containing all
knowledge (scientia) necessary to salvation.19
18 On the medieval description of Mary as the container of God,
see Rachel Fulton, Mary, in Christianity in Western Europe c.
1000-c. 1500, ed. Miri Rubin and Walter Simons (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2009), 283-96. For Sor Maras de-
scription of Mary as filled with the knowledge of creation, see
Mystical City of God 2: The Incarnation, trans. Fiscar Marison
(1912; rpt. Charleston, SC: St. Pius X Press, 2012), bk. 1, cc.
1-9, nr. 1-108, pp. 23-91. On the representation of the world in
the Middle Ages, see Marcia Kupfer, Medieval World Maps:
Embedded Images, Interpretive Frames, Word & Image 10.3
(1994): 262-88; and David Woodward, Medieval Mappaemun-
di, in The History of Cartography. 1: Cartography in Prehistoric,
Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, ed. J.B.
Harley and David Woodward (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1987), 286-370.
19Richard, De laudibus, bk. 12, c. 7, paragraph 4, nr. 1-4, pp.
830-31, on Mary as book. The images of Mary as Wisdom ap-
pear passim throughout Richards commentary. In his first book
Richard explains Marys name; in the second how and why we
should serve Mary; in the third Marys privileges; in the fourth
18 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

What should one do with such a book? According to Rich-


ard of St.-Laurent, just what the voice from heaven ordered
the evangelist and seer John to do: Take this book, the angel
commanded, and eat it (Revelation 10:9). That is, Richard
explained, Take it with understanding (per intellectum) and
eat it with devotion (per affectum)...keeping it always in your
heart,20 just as Mary kept all these things in hers (Luke
2:19). Mary, as Richard and his contemporaries Conrad,
Jacobus, Servasanctus, and pseudo-Albert read her, was both
the book of Scripture and the model reader of Scripture. In
Richards words (paraphrasing Ecclesiasticus 39:1-3), she
spent her days [seeking] out the wisdom of the ancients and
[occupying herself ] in the prophets...[keeping] the sayings of
renowned men and [entering] into the subtleties of parables...
[searching] out the hidden meanings of proverbs...and [con-
versing] in the secrets of parables. Herself wise, she diligently
studied to pierce the surface of the letter or of figures (super-
ficie litterali vel figurali) found therein and to seek the mystical
and moral sense (sensum mysticum et moralem) with all her
heart.21 Moreover, not only was Mary wise, but through her
words, prayers, and deeds she was also a teacher of wisdom
(sapientiae Dei magistra), teaching the knowledge of God
and choosing his works (Wisdom 8:4).22 After all, she was
the mother of wisdom (mater sapientiae), that is, of Christ,

her virtues; and in the fifth her spiritual and corporeal beauty. In
the sixth book, he explains Marys titles (mother, beloved, sister,
daughter, bride, virgin, queen, and so forth). The remaining six
books show how Mary appears in Scripture under all the made
things of creation: heavenly (book seven), earthly (book eight),
watery (book nine), crafted or built (book ten), fortified or nau-
tical (book eleven), and horticultural, including flowers and trees
(book twelve).
20Richard, De laudibus, bk. 12, c. 7, paragraph 4, nr. 7, p. 832.
21Richard, De laudibus, bk. 4, c. 31, nr. 3, pp. 257-58, on the
wisdom of Mary.
22Richard, De laudibus, bk. 4, c. 31, nr. 5, p. 258.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 19

filled up like the Phison and Euphrates by the king born


from David (cf. Ecclesiasticus 24:35-36) with all the knowl-
edge (cognitionem) of the Scriptures. As Richard explained:
For he who opened the minds of the Apostles so that they
might understand the Scriptures (cf. Luke 24:45) filled his
mother all the more powerfully with the spirit of wisdom and
understanding, and not only for the nine months in which
he dwelt in her womb, but all the years of his childhood as
he was living with her. As blessed Anselm put it (as cited by
Richard): What of God did she not know, in whom the wis-
dom of God lay hidden, and from whose womb he made for
himself a body?23 Accordingly, instructed by her Son in the
hidden and uncertain aspects of his wisdom, that is, the se-
crets of the sacred Scriptures up to the marrow of the spir-
itual sense, after his ascension, Mary became the teacher of
the Evangelists and the Apostles, thus fulfilling the proph-
ecy: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word
of the LORD from Jerusalem (Micah 4:2), that is (Richard
explains), from the Virgin who is represented by Zion and
Jerusalem.24
The question is, of course, how Richard and his contem-
poraries knew that the Scriptures might be read of Mary in
this way, particularly through the psalms that they sang in
the course of her office (Psalms 8, 18 [19], 23 [24]; 44 [45],
45 [46], 86 [87]; 95 [96], 96 [97], 97 [98], sung at Matins).
How did they know that Mary was the city of God of whom
glorious things were said (Psalm 86 [87]:3), commended for
her gates above all the tabernacles of Jacob (Psalm 86 [87]:2)
and for her helpfulness in recalling the citizens of Babylon to
her (Psalm 86 [87]:4), founded by the Most High so that he

23Richard, De laudibus, bk. 4, c. 31, nr. 7, p. 259, citing Anselm


of Canterbury (actually Ralph of Escures), Homilia IX: In evan-
gelium secundum Lucam, ed. J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 158
(Paris: Migne, 1853), col. 648.
24Richard, De laudibus, bk. 4, c. 31, nr. 10-11, p. 260.
20 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

might be born in her (Psalm 86 [87]:5)?25 How did they know


that Mary was the ark bearing the presence of the LORD so
that the king of glory might enter his temple in human form
(Psalm 23 [24]) and that her children might pray to her, Give
us today our daily bread, that is, the bread that Wisdom pre-
pared (Wisdom 16:20)?26 How did they know that Mary was
the wood (or tree) from which the LORD reigned (Psalm 95
[96]:10), the cloud, the throne, the lightning, and the glory
upon which the LORD rode (Psalm 96 [97]:2-6), and the
tabernacle sanctified by the Most High as his dwelling place
(Psalm 18 [19]: 6; Psalm 45 [46]:5)?27 How did they know
that she was the queen who stood beside the throne in gilded
clothing (Psalm 44 [45]:10) so as to intercede with her son
for her people?28 How did they know that she was the moth-
er who anointed the king at his birth as the Morning Star
when as bridegroom he set his tabernacle in the sun (Psalm
18 [19]: 6)?29 How did they know that she was the one who
had played before the LORD as he established the heavens
and marked out the earth (Psalm 8; Proverbs 8:22-31)? How
did they know that her name was Mary, that is, the Lady and
Star of the Sea who brings light to the world?30

25Richard, De laudibus, bk. 11, c. 1, nr. 2-7, pp. 540-42, on Mary


as city of God.
26Richard, De laudibus, bk. 10, c. 1, nr. 1-8, pp. 447-51, on Mary
as ark.
27Richard, De laudibus, bk. 12, c. 6, pp. 714-818, on Mary as
tree; bk. 7, c. 12, pp. 397-99, on Mary as cloud; bk. 10, c. 28,
pp. 503-7, on Mary as tabernacle.
28Richard, De laudibus, bk. 6, c. 13, pp. 353-60, on Mary as
queen.
29Richard, De laudibus, bk. 6, c. 1, pp. 320-28, on Mary as moth-
er (cf. Ecclesiasticus 24:24).
30Richard, De laudibus, bk. 1, c. 3, pp. 17-27, on Marys name.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 21

Objection 3

The most likely temptation at this point is to suggest once


again that they didnt (know, that is), that here we have at best
simply a random collection of images, not anything resem-
bling a coherent theology, certainly not anything resembling
an honest effort to celebrate Mary as Mother of the LORD.
As one recent scholar has put it, reflecting on the dazzling
array of such images (e.g. mirror of justice, seat of wisdom,
spiritual vessel, mystical rose, tower of David, house of gold,
ark of the covenant, gate of heaven, morning star) found in
late medieval descriptions of Mary:
The result may be a deeply mysterious, powerfully attractive,
and reverent splendour, but the verbal artifice, semantic alien-
ations and dichotomies that play a part in creating the particu-
lar type of jewelled and mentally dazzling hyperbole to which
writers of late medieval marian praise are so often drawn could
be seen also as expressions of unresolved contradictions in
the elevation to so high a place in theology and devotion of a
woman, in a society that gives women and female qualities in
general little power or respect.... [These Marian titles] initial
awe-inspiring strangeness proves to be a mystery that dissi-
pates once theological and biblical references are decoded: this
decodability recoups that potential awe for a female cosmic
power back securely into the authority of clerkes.

Rather than drawing on an authentic tradition of exegesis,


invocation of Mary through such titles was (or so our com-
mentator Helen Phillips would suggest) all just an elaborate
clerical ruse to create a Mary severed from common expe-
rience by [fragmenting] the readers sense of the figure or
person of Mary and [creating] an impression of a diffused
and displaced power: power refracted through a multitude of
objects in this visible world. In Phillips reading, the human
Marythat is, the human, historical, accessible, and relevant
Mary who ought, by modern, post-Romantic standards, to be
the focus of devotionrecedes in such descriptions behind a
22 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

wall of intricate abstractions and static, emblem-like images


for the readers veneration. Furthermore, Phillips contends,
[while] attributing hyperbolic power to Mary [this style
of praise] deflects attention onto other objects; the stylistic
devices associated with it make it hard to comprehend the
precise nature of Marys power or to visualize completely sat-
isfactorily even the symbolic representations of its nature be-
cause (Phillips concludes) such images refer to the mystery of
Marys virginal motherhood through metaphors far removed
from the organic, human body, thus rendering it impossible
to grasp by the readers mind.31
Perhaps. Perhaps such imagery was, in fact, all simply a
misogynistic power play on the part of the medieval clergy.
Or perhaps it had more substantive, not to mention theolog-
ically significant roots, roots going back to the very origins of
Christianity but which have been obscured by the rejection
in modernity of the Marian reading of the Scriptures. What
if, far from being a late medieval invention of a misogynistic
clergy eager to obscure Marys real power as the Mother of
God, such imagery could be traced back through the most
standard liturgical sources to the very oldest tradition of wor-
ship of the LORD, according to which the LORD was ex-
pected to become present in his temple in human form as the
king anointed by his mother on the day of his betrothalas,
in fact, it says in the psalms? What if, rather than assuming
from the outset that the pre-modern tradition of exegesis had
nothing to teach us, we rather took it as seriously as we take
modern historical critical methods of reading as a source of
information about the origins of Christian theology and de-
votion? What if, in fact, the real question were not why Mary
became so important in Christianity despite the little said
about her in the Gospels, but rather why she was present in

31 Helen Phillips, Almighty and al mercible queene: Marian Ti-


tles and Marian Lyrics, in Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts
in Late Medieval Britain: Essays for Felicity Riddy, ed. Jocelyn Wo-
gan-Browne et al. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000), 83-99.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 23

the Gospels in the first placewhy, that is, in the tradition in


which Christianity developed, it was necessary that the Son of
the Most High be born from the Virgin, and that the Virgin
be known as the Mother of the LORD?

On the contrary

This, I appreciate, is something of a leap to ask even the


most sympathetic of Marys modern devotees, challenging as
it does almost everything we think we know about the his-
tory of her cult, not to mention the history of Christianity.
Nor is it a leap that I was originally expecting myself to have
to make in order to make sense of the medieval tradition of
reading the Old Testament texts about Mary, particularly the
liturgical use of the psalms in her praise. I, as I suspect most
of you, had originally believed that in studying the medieval
tradition of exegesis I would be studying something created
out of the needs of the early Church to support an interpre-
tation of Jesus not hitherto available in the Jewish tradition,
although I have always been skeptical of the suggestion that
Mary took on the cosmic role that she did as a way of an-
swering the pagan (or Gentile) need for a mother goddess.
Even before I started reading the medieval commentators like
Richard and pseudo-Albert, Mary always seemed to me, if
you will pardon the personal reflection, far too complicated to
be simply a gimcrack Diana, Isis, or Cybele, a way of pacifying
the masses lamenting the loss of their Great Mother to the
Christian priests. Nor (unlike Phillips) could I see in her me-
dieval imagery the reduced, pathetic maiden imagined by the
modern feminists, strong only in her ability to survive being
a victim of refined religious rape (to paraphrase Mary Dalys
criticism).32 No. Mary as the Throne of Wisdom, assumed

32 Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism


(Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 85: The rape of the rarefied re-
mains of the Goddess in the christian myth is mind/spirit rape....
Physical rape is not necessary when the mind/will/spirit has
24 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

bodily into heaven to sit beside her Son and reign as Queen,
never seemed to me a challenge to the Divinity to be quashed
by misogynistic clerics nor a way of making other women feel
inferior for her virginal maternity (Marina Warners princi-
pal contention in her oft-cited Alone of All Her Sex).33 But
what then was she? This is the question that the tradition of
exegesis according to which Mary is everywhere in Scripture
obliges us to ask. Perhaps it is time to consider what else she
might be, other than simply the virginal mother of the God-
man Jesus.
As Sor Mara de greda put it in her Mstica ciudad de Dios
(first published 1670), Mary was the most perfect mirror and
image of God after her Son. Far from being a reproach to all
other women in her virginal maternity, Mary was their ex-
emplar as the most perfect creature ever created by God, the
model for all human beings of what they had been before the
Fall and what they could become through imitation of her
and her Son. Even more important, however, was Marys re-
lationship to the Divinity. As Sor Mara explained, God fash-
ioned Mary for himself as his habitation and placed her in this
world as a Mirror of the Divinity and as the special Media-
trix of mortals, as a holy city having the glory of God (Rev-
elation 21:11) of which great and glorious things are said
(Psalm 86 [87]:3).34 In this holy city the Lamb shone forth

already been invaded. In refined religious rapism, the victim is


impregnated with the Supreme Seminal Idea, who becomes the
Word made flesh.
33 Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the
Virgin Mary (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976), 337: The twin
ideal the Virgin represents is of course unobtainable.... By setting
up an impossible ideal the cult of the Virgin [drives] the adher-
ent into a position of acknowledged and hopeless yearning and
inferiority.
34 Sor Mara de greda, Mystical City of God 1: The Conception,
trans. Fiscar Marison (1912; rpt. Charleston, SC: St. Pius X
Press, 2012), bk. 1, c. 18, nr. 266, 268, pp. 218, 220.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 25

who dwelt in Her as in his proper habitation (Revelation


21:22-23),35 which habitation he had himself prepared from
the beginning of creation to be the temple of the LORD. As
the temple prepared for the habitation of the Lamb, [Marys]
entire being was made to shine forth the Divinity; for since
the divine Word was to issue from the bosom of the eternal
Father to descend to that of Mary, He provided for the great-
est possible similarity between the Mother and the Father.36
At the Incarnation, Mary became a heaven, a temple and
dwelling place of the most holy Trinity, transformed thereto,
elevated and made godlike by the special and unheard of op-
eration of the Divinity in her most pure womb,37 while the
angels appointed as her guardians praised her:
Now, O Lady, Thou are the true Ark of the testament (Deuter-
onomy 10:5), since Thou containest the Lawgiver himself and
preservest the Manna of heaven (Hebrews 9:4), which is our
true bread. Receive, O Queen, our congratulations on account
of thy dignity and happiness, for which we also thank the Most
High; since He has befittingly chosen Thee for his Mother and
his tabernacle.38

Mary was the tabernacle, the city, the ark, the one contain-
ing the light of the Lamb and the true bread of heaven. She
was the temple gilded inside and out with the purest gold of
the Divinity (3 Kings 6:30) so as to bear the presence of the
LORD, while her entire being was an intellectual and ani-
mated heaven, and in Her was summarized the divine glory

35 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 1: The Conception, bk. 1, c. 19,


nr. 299, p. 242.
36 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 2: The Incarnation, bk. 1, c. 9,
nr. 105, p. 89.
37 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 2: The Incarnation, bk. 1, c. 11,
nr. 140, p. 113.
38 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 2: The Incarnation, bk. 1, c. 14,
nr. 181, p. 147.
26 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

and greatness, in a measure that even the vast confines of the


heavens themselves could not encompass.39
Theseit surely has to be admittedare glorious imag-
es, yet again revealing an aspect of Mary utterly lost to most
modern discussions of her significance. But how did Sor
Mara know that Mary could be read in the Scriptures in this
way? For the enlightened philosophes Giacomo Casanova (d.
1798) and his friend Voltaire (d. 1778), the answer was sim-
ple: she was crazy (more particularly, as Casanova put it in
Arthur Machens 1894 translation, devout to superstition,
melancholy, shut in by convent walls, and swayed by the igno-
rance and bigotry of her confessors).40 As Sor Mara herself
tells it, her understanding came to her through a series of vi-
sions, in which she was shown the Lord seated on a throne
of great majesty, where, always within mortal limitation, [she
perceived] his attributes distinctly, while in like manner she
also saw and recognized the Queen of Heaven and the holy
angels sometimes in the Lord, at other times in themselves.41
For our purposes, what is surely most striking is the degree to
which she depends upon the tradition of exegesis with which
we are here concerned. How, after all, did Sor Mara know
that Mary was the temple, city, and ark of the LORD pre-
pared for his habitation from the beginning of creation? How
are we to account for this tradition of reading?

39 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 2: The Incarnation, bk. 1, c. 9,


nr. 105, p. 89; and bk. 1, c. 14, nr. 183, p. 149.
40 Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798, trans. Ar-
thur Machen (London: Privately printed, 1894), To Paris and
Prison, vol. 2e Under the Leads (<http://www.gutenberg.org/
cache/epub/2960/pg2960.html>, accessed August 19, 2014).
Voltaire described her in his Ancient and Modern History (trans.
T. Smollett, et al., vol. 9 [London: Printed for J. Newbery et al.,
1761], p. 126), as [pretending] to more visions and revelations
than all the rest of the mystical tribe put together.
41 Sor Mara, Mystical City of God 1: The Conception, bk. 1, c. 2,
nr. 14, p. 36; and bk. 1, c. 2, nr. 22, p. 42.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 27

I answer

The answer depends, as I have suggested in the book that I


have written on the office of the Virgin and for which I am at
present seeking a publisher, on our willingness to accept first
and foremost that there was in fact a tradition of interpreta-
tion, not just a late medieval obsession with finding images of
Mary in places that the authors of Scripture never intended
for her to be found, and that we can see this tradition most
clearly in the selection of texts that appear in her liturgy,
most particularly the Old Testament lessons and psalms. To
most modern scholars, the psalms of the Marian office have
seemed to have little or nothing to say about Mary, chosen (it
would seem) apparently at random, with no underlying logic
to guide them other than praise of God. As Roger Wieck put
it in his explanation of the Marian hours (one of the very few
to address in detail their potential symbolism): The Psalms
of the Old Testament do not, of course, make mention of the
Virgin Mary.42 As we have seen, Richard and his contem-
poraries would beg to disagree. In their reading, the psalms,
like the Old Testament itself, speak about Mary all the time,
just as they speak of the LORD, her Son. Much of this im-
agery can be easily traced through the sermons preached for
her feasts in Jerusalem and Constantinople, but even this ev-
idence can take us only so far.43 If for Proclus, preaching in

42 Roger S. Wieck, Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medie-


val and Renaissance Art (New York: George Braziller, 1997), 53.
43 For the most important of these sermons, see Mary B. Cun-
ningham, trans., Wider Than Heaven: Eighth-Century Homilies
on the Mother of God (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Semi-
nary Press, 2008); and Brian J. Daley, trans., On the Dormition
of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs
Seminary Press, 1997). These images also appear in the earliest
full biography of Mary. See Maximus the Confessor, The Life of
the Virgin, trans. Stephen J. Shoemaker (New Haven: Yale Uni-
versity Press, 2012).
28 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

early fifth-century Constantinople in the midst of the con-


troversy over the title Theotokos, Mary was a mother, a
servant [Luke 1:38], a cloud [Isaiah 19:1], a bridal chamber
[Psalm 18 (19):6], and the ark of the Lord [Exodus 25:10],
we would still want to ask why.44 Why should the defenders
of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God invoke these images,
so unlikely to modern scholars (and philosophes) as to seem
melancholy, misogynistic, ridiculousor worse, unsupport-
ed by an authentic tradition of interpretation?
According to Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker
upon whose work I have thus far been implicitly depending
as a way out of the impasse to which the modern rejection
of the pre-modern tradition has brought our understanding
of Marybecause Proclus, like the evangelists and, indeed,
Jesus himself (at least insofar as he understood himself as the
anointed LORD), knew that Mary was not just the mother
of the human man Jesus, but the living temple built by the
Word as a dwelling for the One whom heaven itself could
not contain.45 They knew that she was the bridal chamber
[in which] the Word of God pitched the tent of the mystery
of the incarnation and the ark, containing not the Law, but
bearing in her womb the Giver of the Law because they ex-
pected that the LORD would become present to them in
precisely this way.46 They knew that Mary was everywhere
in Scripture because they knew that the LORD her Son
was there, too, not as an invention of apostolic fanaticism
or Greek philosophy, but as the LORD whom the Israelites
worshipped in the temple, whose presence the priests invoked

44 Proclus, Homily 5: On the Holy Virgin Theotokos, ed. and


trans. Nicholas Constas, Proclus of Constantinople and the Cult of
the Virgin in Late Antiquity: Homilies 1-5, Texts and Translations
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), 263.
45 Proclus, Homily 1: On the Holy Virgin Theotokos, ed. and
trans. Constas, 139. See below for Barkers most important pub-
lications on this tradition.
46 Proclus, Homily 5, ed. and trans. Constas, 263.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 29

as they sang, He hath set his tabernacle in the sun, and he


as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber hath re-
joiced as a giant to run the way (Psalm 18 [19]:6). This is
why the early Christians told stories about Marys childhood
in the Temple and included stories of her in the Gospels.
Not because they wanted to make the accounts of her and
her Sons biographies more socially or psychologically real,
but because they wanted to show how she and he fulfilled the
Scriptures, above all, how she was the Lady who wove the veil
through which the Melchizedek high priest entered into the
world (Hebrews 5:10) as well as the temple in which he put
on the flesh so as to appear in human form.47
Barker depends, for the purposes of her argument, on close
readings of the Hebrew scriptures, the philological and in-
tertextual intricacies of which I do not have the expertise to
reproduce. What is truly astonishing to my mind given her
expertise is how closely her readings of the ancient texts (in-
cluding those scriptures excluded from the later Jewish and
Protestant canons) reproduce in detail the readings of the
Scriptures found in the later medieval and early modern tra-
ditionalmost as if there were actually a tradition going back
to the earliest mythology and ritual of the ancient temple, just as
the pre-modern exegetes contended when they insisted that Mary
could be found in the Old Testament as well as the New. For
Barker, it is this older tradition, older than the Law of Deu-
teronomy, to which those who called themselves Christians
(or little anointed ones) were heir, a tradition that had been
at odds since the reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23 RSV)
with that of the Jews, an elite subset of the Israelites who
on their return from their captivity in Babylon had rejected
various elements of the older temple worship, including the
role of the Lady, the Queen of heaven and the Mother of the
LORD (cf. Jeremiah 44).

47 Proclus, Homily 1, ed. and trans. Constas, 139.


30 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

As Barker tells it, without the Lady, without the Mother,


there would be no Christianity because it was the Lady who
made the LORD, quite literally, by anointing him.This, she
explains, is the mystery celebrated in Psalm 109 (110), the
great enthronement psalm sung at Vespers in the office of the
Virgin and cited more than any other Old Testament text in
the New as a proof of Jesuss identification as the LORD.48
Significantly, the most important verse for this identification
is now unreadable in the Hebrew, thanks to the pens of the
rabbinic correcting scribes, but as Barker has argued, verse 3
originally read: In the glory of the holy one, with dew from
the womb I have begotten you as the Morning Star.49 It was
the Lady or Wisdom who was the source of the dew, who
by her own description flowed with the perfumes of the
anointing oil (Ecclesiasticus 24:20, read as the third lesson at
Matins for the office of the Virgin): I gave a sweet smell like
cinnamon, and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odor like
the best myrrh. It was likewise the Lady who gave sight to
the blind so that they could see.50 We may recall that in the
medieval tradition, Marys name meant illuminatrix, or she
who gives light.
It has taken books (seventeen thus far) for Barker to de-
velop her reading of this temple tradition, so complex a task
48 Citations according to the RSV: Matthew 22:44, 26:64; Mark
12:36, 14:62, 16:19; Luke 20:42-43, 22:69; Acts 2:34; 1 Corin-
thians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; and Hebrews 1:3,
13; 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 21; 10:12-13; 12:2.
49 Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord. Volume 1: The Lady
in the Temple (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 125; and Bark-
er, Temple Themes in Christian Worship (London: T&T Clark,
2007), 97. On the changes made to the Scriptures by the correct-
ing scribes, see Saul Levin, The Father of Joshua/Jesus (Bingham-
ton: State University of New York, 1978), 70-107. The RSV, fol-
lowing the rabbinic Hebrew, renders the verse: From the womb
of the morning like dew your youth [alt. the dew of your youth]
will come to you.
50Barker, Mother of the Lord, 365.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 31

has it proven to disentangle more recent convictions about


the origins of Christianity from what the ancient Scriptures
originally said before they were corrected against the old-
er readings.51 And yet, for those who had eyes to seeand
the willingness to read the pre-modern Marian exegetes
the key was there all along. To give but one example, we may
take Barkers reading of Isaiah. We have already noted how
pseudo-Albert saw in Isaiahs descriptions of the city (Isaiah
1:26), tabernacle (Isaiah 4:6), throne (Isaiah 6:1), rod (Isaiah
11:1), cloud (Isaiah 19:1), earth (Isaiah 45:8), fountain (Isa-
iah 58:11), city (Isaiah 60:1), house and altar (Isaiah 60:7) a
description of Mary as Lady and Queen. According to Barker,
in the temple tradition, these were all images of the Lady as
the Mother of the LORD, visible above all in the uncorrect-
ed reading of Isaiah 7:11, where the Qumram scroll of the
text reads not, Ask a sign of, mm, the LORD your God, but
Ask a sign of the mother of, mm, the LORD your God (the
vowel mark is significant).52 In Barkers words: The Chris-
tian message was not only that the Messiah had come; it was
also about the restoration of the Mother of the LORD to her
temple. Mary was proclaimed as the Lady just as her Son was
proclaimed as the LORDa proclamation with, we may
note, profound consequences for the way in which Chris-
tians understood the Scriptures. Again, in Barkers words:
51 For the most accessible introduction to her argument, see
Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK,
2004). On the importance of Wisdom or the Queen of Heav-
en in this tradition, see The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots
of Christian Liturgy (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 229-61, 347-
53; and Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (London:
T&T Clark, 2010), 237-88. On Mary as the Lady, see Christmas:
The Original Story (London: SPCK, 2008).
52Barker, Mother of the Lord, 102. See also her commentary on
Isaiah 7 in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James D.G.
Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans,
2003), 505-6.
32 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

The return of the Lady accounts for the earliest recorded


Jewish-Christian disputes over the text of the Hebrew Scrip-
tures, the choice of books for the Jewish canon of Scripture,
and the Christian [and original] way of understanding the
Hebrew Scriptures53a way of understanding, as we have
seen, reflected throughout the Middle Ages and well into the
early modern period in the conviction that the Scriptures
speak everywhere both of Mary and her Son. The problem
is not why pre-modern preachers, liturgists, and exegetes in-
voked such readings in praise of Mary, but why scholars (and
Christians) in more recent centuries have forgotten them.

Reply to Objections

Dominant modes of reading are difficult to overturn, and


those who attempt to challenge them are likely to be vilified
as crazy, unscholarly, or even (dare we say) blasphemous.
Ironically, given her reception in later centuries, Sor Mara de
greda was hailed in her own day as divinely inspired, able
to explain the faith more clearly than even the most learned
theologians. More recent scholars, fascinated by the prospect
of a strong female voice speaking out of the darkness of the
early modern Spanish inquisition, have hailed her rather as a
spiritual autobiographer, remarkable more for her imagina-
tion than her grasp of the Scriptures or theology.54 Divinely
inspired Sor Mara may or may not have been (although I
rather think she was). What is certain is that she was well-

53Barker, Mother of the Lord, 375, brackets in original.


54 For Sor Maras biography, see Marilyn H. Fedewa, Mara of
greda: Mystical Lady in Blue (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 2009). On her visions, see Clark Colahan, The
Visions of Sor Mara de Agreda: Writing Knowledge and Power
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994). On her work as a
spiritual autobiography, see Nathan D. Mitchell, The Mystery of
the Rosary: Marian Devotion and the Reinvention of Catholicism
(New York: New York University Press, 2009), 130-45.
brown Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition 33

schooled in an exegetical tradition that modern scholars have


almost completely lost, a tradition grounded (if our argument
here is correct) not in medieval or early modern fancy, but in
the most ancient traditions of the worship of the LORD and
his Mother in the temple. Rather than condemning her, as
Voltaire, Casanova, and even more recent scholars have done,
as apt to expose the Catholic religion to ridicule,55 we need
to do much more work on the interpretive tradition of Scrip-
ture in which Sor Mara was writing, starting with simply
reading the texts, many now available in their early modern
editions through Google books. Above all, we need to stop
insisting, as if it were not itself a matter of interpretation, that
the Scriptures say very little about Mary, when read other-
wise, they say a great deal. Quite bluntly, wemodern, his-
torically critical scholars as well as Christians for whom Mary
has seemed either incidental or an embarrassmentneed to
consider the possibility that we may have been wrong in our
reading of the Scriptures. We need to consider that it is we,
not the medieval and early modern exegetes, who have been
reading more according to our own interpretive agendas than
according to the Spirit in which the Scriptures were original-
ly written.
As Mary herself says, speaking as Wisdom in the lessons
and chapters for her office taken from Ecclesiasticus 24:11-
20, 24 (Douay-Rheims):
In all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance
of the LORD. Then the creator of all things commanded and
said to me, and he that made me rested in my tabernacle, and
he said to me, Let thy dwelling be in Jacob and thy inheritance
in Israel, and take root in my elect. From the beginning and
before the world was I created, and unto the world to come I
shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have min-
istered before him. And so was I established in Zion, and in

55 Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, with


a new chapter covering Vatican II and beyond by Thomas A.
Thompson (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2009), 319.
34 The Theotokos Lecture in Theology

the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.


And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of
my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly
of saints. I was exalted like a cedar in Lebanon and as a cypress
tree on Mount Zion. I was exalted like a palm tree in Kadesh
and as a rose plant in Jericho; as a fair olive tree in the plains
and as a plane tree by the water in the streets was I exalted. I
gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatical balm. I yield-
ed a sweet odour like the best myrrh.... I am the mother of fair
love and of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope.

Perhaps, after all, she was.


the theotokos lecture in theology
2008
Woman of Many Names
Mary in Orthodox & Catholic Theology
Brian E. Daley, SJ

2009
The Virgin of Guadalupe in Ecumenical Context
One Lutherans Perspective
Maxwell E. Johnson

2010
Mary at the Cross, East & West
Maternal Compassion & Affective Piety in the Earliest Life of the
Virgin & the High Middle Ages
Stephen Shoemaker

2011
Predestination, Sola Gratia, & Marys Immaculate Conception
An Ecumenical Reading of a (Still) Church-Dividing Doctrine
Edward T. Oakes, SJ

2012
Contemplation and Concretion
Four Marian Lyrics
Kevin Hart

2013
Mary as Omnipotent by Grace
An Exposition
Francesca Aran Murphy

2014
Mary in the Scriptures
The Unexpurgated Tradition
Rachel Fulton Brown